The March 2016 Movie Preview

Holy smokes, has 2016 been an eventful year. I decided I wanted to write words about movies on this here blog at the start of the year. In the two months since, I was cast in a play, changed jobs, and moved across the country. All the activity has been great, but it's seriously cramped my movie-opining style. I've got very-late reviews of six Oscar nominees and a couple of new releases that I've been sitting on in various states of completion with no time to finish up. Yikes!

I'll be pushing that somewhat dated content over the next week or so peppered with a few non-review posts and reviews of newer films and I'm optimistic that with the stage curtain closed, boxes nearly unpacked, and job transition finished I'll have more time to dedicate to this, my intended-to-be-weekly writing hobby.

Anyway, enough of excuses - on to the movies! There are 11 new nationwide releases in March. 

In Theaters March 4


At a Glance: "Zootopia"  is the first feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios since 2014's "Big Hero Six." Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is the first rabbit to join the Zootopia police force. When some of the city's mammal citizens begin "going savage," Judy hops (so punny!) at the chance to prove herself by unraveling the mysterious cause.

Initial Thoughts: Since I'm a week late on this article, we already know how this turned out. "Zootopia" has earned positive reviews from all but two of 145 critics on Rotten Tomatoes. This is just the latest in a string of critical hits from the same people behind "Frozen," "Wreck-It Ralph," "Tangled" and others. If you're a fan of animated features, this is a must-see.

Recommended Hype Level: Five..................of.....................five.................

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

At a Glance:  In its 2011 review of "The Taliban Shuffle," journalist Kim Barker's memoir of her time as a war correspondent in Afghanistan and Pakistan, The New York Times calls the book hilarious and notes that Barker "depicts herself as a sort of Tina Fey character." Fast forward to 2016 and the release of "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot," the film adaptation of the aforementioned memoir which stars (who else?) Tina Fey. Perfect.

Initial Thoughts: Tina Fey is a national treasure. I've never disliked any of her films (happily I haven't seen the widely panned "Admission") and I'm not expecting that trend to change. "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" has critics  somewhat split. My uneducated guess is the sticking question is whether or not the film reaches the source material's soul - humorous presentation of stark truths - or if it sheds that to be merely a standard or better-than-average comedy. My gut tells me this will be, at worst, not as good as it could have been, but nowhere near bad.

Recommended Hype Level: Four of five jokes about women drivers that I won't make because I know better.

London Has Fallen

At a Glance: "London Has Fallen" is the somehow even less probable sequel to 2013's "Olympus Has Fallen," in which the White House is overtaken by a gang of impoverished North Koreans. In this installment, the president and bodyguard Gerard Butler flee a terrorist organization through the besieged streets of London. The series features the world's least competent security forces and was inspired when the writers marathoned the most ridiculous episodes of "24." Probably.

Initial Thoughts: If you're looking for stupid entertainment, you will get at least 50% of what you want from this movie. To be clear, this isn't the kind of movie that strives for greatness. It knows what it is - brainless action - and I'm not going to hold that against it. What I will hold against it is the cliche ridden trailer that concludes with some truly terrible CGI. 

Recommended Hype Level: Two of five somber exclamations of "Oh my God."

The Other Side of the Door

At a Glance: Set in Mumbai, a grieving mother learns of a ritual that allows her to speak to her dead son through the closed door to the world of the dead. When she opens it in desperation not to lose him again, she unwittingly lets through his spirit, pursued by the malevolent god of the dead.

Initial Thoughts: How many jump scares did you count in that trailer? Like January's "The Boy" and "The Forest," I'm fearful that an otherwise interesting premise will be ultimately wasted by a shallow film that relies far too much on cheap scare tricks rather than real horror.

Recommended Hype Level: Two of five fingers pointing ominously in your direction.

In Theaters March 11

10 Cloverfield Lane

At a Glance: Everything I've seen suggests the less you know about this film going in, the better. Here's the one sentence synopsis from IMDB: "After getting in a car accident, a woman is held in a shelter by two men, who claim the outside world is affected by a widespread chemical attack." Don't go Googling - there's spoilers everywhere.

Initial Thoughts:  This trailer is extremely my jam. It suggests shared characteristics with most of my favorite films (e.g. "Ex Machina") from last year: a small cast and confined interior setting. These films forwent spectacle for an emphasis on character dynamics that resulted in deeply believable relationships and unrelentingly gripping tension. The trailer's composition is masterful, and while "trailers lie" is a solid rule of thumb, I can't help but be intrigued. 

Recommended Hype Level: Five of five <REDACTED> and <REDACTED>.

The Brothers Grimsby

At a Glance: After 28 years Nobby Butcher tracks down his baby brother Sebastian, who happens to be MI6's top agent. After botching a mission (thanks to Nobby), the two go on the run. In order to clear his name and finish the mission, Sebastian will need the help of his dimwitted brother.

Initial Thoughts: Which do you suppose is the purpose of the big "SACHA BARON COHEN IS BACK" at the start of the trailer: Selling point or warning? I'm going with warning. SBC is much better in other people's movies than his own, at least lately. His recent screen writing ventures have misfired as often as they've landed, and the shock-gross out humor that this film seems to clearly lean on won't carry it very far.

Recommended Hype Level: Two of five jokes will be funny.

The Young Messiah

At a Glance: "The Young Messiah" is Biblical drama adaptation of "Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt," by Anne Rice - yes, that Anne Rice - which depicts a seven-year old Jesus learning about the truth of his identity. As his presence and powers grow, so too do the dangers his family faces.

Initial Thoughts: I want to give "The Young Messiah" a little more credit than I gave "Risen" for it's premise. The Bible is largely silent on Jesus' childhood, so the film benefits from an original take on a well-known figure in an imagined pivotal time in his life. Even so, there must surely be some limited dramatic capability - we know how it all works out in the end, so can we really be that invested in threats we know will be overcome? I was prepared to give this a 4-hype factor in the spirit of Easter, but critics were not permitted to see the film until opening day and review embargoes are almost never a good thing.

Recommended Hype Level: There's a rule against giving Jesus a hype figure, right? (3 of 5 though)

In Theaters March 18

The Divergent Series: Allegiant

At a Glance: The third film in the now (regrettably) four-film-three-book Divergent series follows Tris and Four as they escape the walled city of Chicago, only to learn that trust and truth are no easier outside the walls.

Initial Thoughts: Film franchise finales being split into multiple parts is a trend that needs to die, particularly when the films in question are mediocre to begin with. Fortunately, the trailer gives so much away you could probably just outright skip this one and catch the final installment next year. This trailer features some truly eye-roll inducing moments that don't do much for my sense that the series started just "okay" and is getting progressively worse with each installment. Call me pessimistic, but I half expect "Allegiant" to descend into full blown melodrama. 

Recommended Hype Level: Two of five factions divided by a single personality trait.

The Little Prince

At a Glance: "The Little Prince" is the feature film adaption of the beloved story by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry. A young girl (Mackenzie Foy) being forced to grow up too fast befriends an elderly aviator (Jeff Bridges), who recounts his experiences with a prince from a faraway asteroid. 

Initial Thoughts: I love an animated film that does interesting things with its visuals and the split animation style (CG for the main narrative and stop-motion for The Aviator's memories) looks gorgeous. "The Little Prince" has already opened in some international markets, where it has enjoyed both critical and commercial success; the film is France's most successful animated export of all time. The biggest question is whether or not the soul of the source survives the addition of a new narrative frame which almost certainly takes center stage.

Recommended Hype Level: Five of five James Franco Foxes.

In Theaters March 25

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

At a Glance: This sequel to the 2002 original finds Toulas and Ian dealing with marital problems as their daughter prepares to leave for college. When Toulas' parents learn they were never officially married, the Portokalos family pulls together for another big fat wedding. 

Initial Thoughts: I've never seen the original fat wedding, much to the wife's chagrin. I don't really have much to add other than "the trailer looks cute."

Recommended Hype Level: 4 of 5 big fat greek baklavas. 

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

At a Glance: Batman and Superman face off in the second installment of DC's Cinematic Universe (the first since 2013's "Man of Steel"). This is the jumping off point for an announced slate of at least ten feature films, Warner Brothers answer to the wildly successful Disney/Marvel film franchise. Henry Cavill returns to the role of Superman and Ben Affleck stars as Batman.

Initial Thoughts: I'm excited to see this. That said, I can't help but worry Warner Bros is putting the cart before the horse in its rush to catch up to Disney. The first Avengers film was preceded by five feature films that established the characters independently before their first ensemble outing. When they finally appeared together, we already knew who they were and could skip the background. In addition to Affleck's Batman and Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luthor, "Batman v Superman" will introduce Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg in an attempt to lay groundwork for the future Justice League film. With so many characters appearing for the first time the risk of overcrowding and underdevelopment is real.

Recommended Hype Level: Four of five canisters of Superman Repellent Bat-Spray.

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